Hello, and Happy Thursday,
One morning a few months ago, Ashley Dittus, a Democratic election commissioner in Ulster county, New York, came into work and saw that someone had sent in the first submission in a countywide contest for an “I voted” sticker. She opened the email and was shocked. “It was a moment I’ll never forget,” Dittus told me on Wednesday.
The design was a skull-like head with bloodshot eyes and multicolored teeth sitting atop turquoise spider legs. To the creature’s right, the words “I voted” were scribbled in graffiti-like font. It was 4/20 so she wondered whether someone was playing a trick.
But the design was real. It was the creation of Hudson Rowan, a 14-year-old from Marbletown, which is about 100 miles north of New York City. Dittus circulated the design around the small office, evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, and everyone laughed.
The staff chose it as one of six finalists in the contest and put it on the board’s website for the public to vote on. Now, it appears extremely likely that Ulster county voters will get the sticker when they go to the polls this November. As of Wednesday morning, it had received nearly 174,000 votes out of nearly 186,000 cast. That’s more votes than there are registered voters in the county (voting is open to all members of the public). Last year, in the county’s first design contest, 2,200 people voted.
I’ve become mildly obsessed with the design, which is such a clear break from the usual charming, but restrained, designs of the stickers Americans get when they cast their vote.
Hudson told me yesterday that when his mom told him about the contest, he wasn’t really into the idea because the typical “I voted” designs aren’t really his style of drawing. But he decided to bring his own style to the contest and doodled out the creature in about 10 minutes on his iPad. There wasn’t anything in particular that inspired the creature, but he noted it was reminiscent of a robot spider he used to paint when he was younger.
“I didn’t want to do what everyone would expect. I just decided to import my own style of drawing and see what would happen,” he said.
“I think the colors and the craziness just represent the world how it is right now. And how everyone feels when they’re like voting and how the world is. And everyone’s kind of emotions through the colors,” he said. “I feel like my creation kind of changes it up… adds a new flair and hope to the world.”
He said the last few days have been “amazing” as the design has gone viral and people have reached out with support.
“I’m glad that I can and I hope I will inspire many people to vote. So many people have told me that they’re going to go vote just so they can get my sticker, which I think is crazy and amazing,” he said.
I sent the sticker design to my colleague Jonathan Jones, who reviews art for the Guardian, and asked him why he thought it had resonated with so many people. He said the design was “hilarious” and “perhaps a fitting image of the desperate political scene”.
“This grimacing skull-like head on kinda spider legs has the nihilism of Rick and Morty and speaks to a generation whose recent political education includes a riotous coup attempt and a supreme court revoking an essential human right,” he said. “Yet it turns that monster around, making it a comedy badge of using the vote to fight back.”
There’s also something about the unpolished drawing that may resonate with average people, said Jeremy Fish, an artist who grew up in upstate New York. “This humanoid spider crab is an ugly drawing, and sometimes that is what it takes to get the average dude to engage in the ugliness of modern politics,” he said. “Cheers and good job, Hudson.”
Raquel Breternitz, the design director for Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign, said she had also become obsessed with the image. It is “very obviously not what you’d expect from a ‘political design’”, she said. It’s not polished, and lacks the typical red, white and blue, and iconography typically used in politics, she noted.
“What I believe is speaking to people about this image is that it hits at more nuanced, mixed feelings re: voting, than what we’ve come to expect,” she wrote in an email. “It gives the sense of us, continuing to go and cast our silly little votes, for our silly little democracy, while things feel desperate; like they’re falling to pieces around us, and the representatives we voted for seemingly lack the political will to respond in kind.”
“The fascinating piece of this to me is that the design legitimately is motivational and is expected to boost turnout. It’s inspiring people to vote,” she added. “At this point, what a lot of people want to hear isn’t the bland, positive assertion that voting is some great duty that will fix what ails us, but the honest admission that it’s small, desperately small in the face of things, and yet still – essential.”
Siddhartha Mitter, an art critic in New York, was concise in his review. “Looks about right,” he said.
Dittus, the election commissioner, said her office has been flooded with calls from all over the country asking how to get one of the stickers and requests for T-shirts and other apparel with the design. She said she has passed the branding requests to Hudson, who said he’s considering it.
She said she hopes that the sticker will increase voter turnout, especially for voters aged 25 and under, traditionally a group with low turnout. “If it inspires people to go vote just to get a funny sticker and take a second to think about and look at what’s on the ballot, then I think we’ve done a good job of raising awareness for voting,” she said.
“Whatever this humanoid is, he certainly looks very happy in the picture. He’s smiling, his rainbow teeth are on full display. He looks happy that he voted.”
Also worth watching…
Grid published a deep dive into the Conservative Partnership Institute, a conservative non-profit, that has been leading a push to recruit election workers, among other efforts.
The Wisconsin supreme court ruled on Friday that ballot drop-boxes were illegal. Writing in dissent, three justices said the majority’s rhetoric was “downright dangerous to our democracy”.
Election officials are worried about insider threats to voting systems